By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Fourth of an eight-part series featuring the best Football Championship Subdivision players at various positions.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - When the news was delivered to Wofford defensive end Ameet Pall in January that he had finished tied for second in the 2010 Buck Buchanan Award voting, it was almost too hard for him to accept initially.
"At first, I was like, 'What? You shouldn't even have told me that. That's a heartbreaker right there,'" he remembered saying.
But then it sunk in with Pall that it was a great honor to come so close to winning the Buchanan, which is given to the outstanding defensive player in the FCS, presented by The Sports Network and sponsored by Fathead.com.
A better feeling sunk in even more when he learned that Eastern Washington's J.C. Sherritt, the player who edged both Pall and Western Illinois' Kyle Glazier, in the 2010 voting had finished second in the voting in 2009.
"Hopefully, that trend will keep going," said Pall, a junior last season, who will return to defending Southern Conference co-champion Wofford as one of the FCS' Top 10 defensive linemen this season.
He has gotten bigger and better since arriving in Spartanburg, S.C. Standing 6 feet, 245 pounds, Pall uses his size to his advantage as he often is too fast for opposing left tackles. He gets around the corner quickly.
"It's a mind game with the O-line, just try to figure him out, see what he's doing," Pall said. "I know I'm not the biggest guy, so I try to use my other tools that I have. If we can get them in third-and-long, it's easy for the defense to read, so we can pin our ears back and pass rush a little better."
Wofford is known for bringing in smaller players, so Pall was attracted immediately out of Canada's Vanier College, arriving on campus in 2008 around 225 pounds.
He was highly productive as a freshman in 2008, became a starter in '09 and was dominant last season, collecting 60 tackles with nine quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
"My goal for next year is to keep supporting my teammates," he said. "I know a lot of that stuff - the tackles, the sacks, the TFLs - sometimes go your way, sometimes they don't. I know I have to work twice as hard this year because people know Wofford now - Southern Conference (co-)champions. Every game is going to be the opponent's best shot. We know we have to work harder to defend that title."
Wofford reached the FCS quarterfinals and finished 10-3 last season, with a No. 6 final ranking in The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25.
Pall should factor into some individual hardware as well - as one of the favorites in the Buchanan Award race.
"Hopefully, I'll be able to get it next season," he said. "To everybody, best of luck next year."
Here are nine more defensive linemen who are part of The Sports Network's FCS Preseason Top 10:
Ben Boothby, Northern Iowa, NT, Sr., 6-0, 280 - Boothby must have been one tough fullback as a redshirt freshman in 2008. He's blossomed on the defensive side of the ball now that he is chasing quarterbacks instead of blocking for them. He had 16 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks last season, with 56 tackles overall. He set a Northern Iowa record for sacks in a game with four against North Dakota State in the 2010 opener. Perhaps not quite 6 feet tall, Boothby uses his low center of gravity to gain leverage on blockers. He often faces a double-team, which free ups a UNI linebacker.
Asa Chapman, Liberty, DT, Sr., 6-5, 380 - What you see is a mammoth player. What you might not see is his tireless style of play, having never missed a practice since he started at Liberty. The All-Big South standout has become a vocal leader for the Flames. He is deceptively quick for his size, has a good change of direction and drives offensive linemen off the line of scrimmage. Chapman collected 41 tackles, including a pair of sacks, and had four quarterback hurries and a forced fumble as a junior.
Mario Kurn, San Diego, DE, Sr., 6-2, 220 - Kurn finished sixth in the 2010 Buck Buchanan Award voting after terrorizing opponents with an FCS-high 17 sacks last season, and 27 tackles for loss. He has the size of a linebacker or big strong safety, so the Toreros maximize his athleticism on the edge. Overall, Kurn had 66 tackles, which doubled his total as a sophomore in 2009, and added seven quarterback hurries, five pass breakups, five pass deflections and two forced fumbles. Incredibly, the unanimous All-Pioneer Football League choice had 7.5 tackles for loss in a season-ending win over Davidson.
Desmund Lighten, McNeese State, DE, Sr., 6-0, 250 - A combination of speed and strength make the two-time Southland Conference first-team selection hard to block on the edge. His production has been particularly consistent the last two seasons, with 65 tackles, including 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks, five QB hurries, two fumble recoveries, one blocked kick and one pass breakup last season.
Brian McNally, New Hampshire, DE, Sr., 6-3, 266 - McNally set UNH's single- season record with a CAA Football-leading 13.5 sacks last season. It included a career-high 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble in the Wildcats' FCS playoff win at Bethune-Cookman. He made 42 tackles overall while forcing a pair of fumbles and recovering one. McNally's speed gets him into backfields. He was the 2008 CAA Co-Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Zack Nash, Sacramento State, DE, Sr., 6-3, 265 - Nash was a high school linebacker, so that may allow him to view the game a little differently than other defensive ends. He is fast off the snap of the ball. He set the Hornets' single-season record with 13 sacks last season, including five in a win over Idaho State. He had 37 tackles, including 16.5 for loss. He has earned All-Big Sky honors in each of his first three seasons, including a first-team honor as a junior.
Ben Obaseki, Indiana State, DE, Jr., 6-3, 235 - After a strong freshman season in 2009, Obaseki rose to a higher level of play last season, totaling 70 tackles, including 16 for loss and nine sacks for 71 yards lost, in the competitive Missouri Valley Football Conference. He also forced a fumble, recovered one, had five QB hurries and came up with a safety. He is a terrific one-on-one tackler.
Brent Russell, Georgia Southern, DT, Jr., 6-2, 287 - An excellent NFL prospect for 2013, Russell is a dominant force in the middle of Georgia Southern's veteran defense. It often takes two offensive lineman to block the big and strong Russell. He's also fast off the snap, so Russell totaled 71 tackles, including 18.5 for loss and eight sacks, as a sophomore. He had five QB hurries, forced two fumbles and recovered one. He was an All-Southern Conference first-team selection as a defensive end in 2009, then earned the honor after shifting inside last season.
Renard Williams, Eastern Washington, DT, Sr., 6-2, 300 - A fourth-year starter, Williams has an enthusiastic style that rubs off on teammates. He was a playmaker while the Eagles won the FCS national championship last season. He totaled 54 tackles, including 16 for loss and 6.5 sacks, forced four fumbles, recovered two and had four QB hurries, and earned All-Big Sky first-team honors for the second straight year. He draws double teams, but counters well with his strong, big body.
Defensive linemen on the cusp:
Coulter Boyer, North Dakota State, DE, Sr., 6-4, 248;
Marcus Hyde, William & Mary, DE, Sr., 6-3, 242;
Devon Langhorst, Dayton, DE, Sr., 6-3, 225;
Zach Minter, Montana State, DT, Jr., 6-1, 280